Cambridge Audio Azur752BD
Blu-ray Disc™ Player
Doug Blackburn
Like Cambridge Audio’s previous Azur 751BD Blu-ray Disc™
player reviewed in Issue 162, December 2011, the Azur 752BD is
based on the same Mediatech chip-set used in OPPO disc players. Also, like the 751BD, the 752BD is distinctly different than
OPPO players in numerous ways. The circuit boards themselves
are clearly unique to Cambridge, being laid out differently, labeled
with Cambridge identification, and are blue in color. The main
board contains the large integrated circuit carrying the Anagram
DSP-based, ten-channel 24/192 upsampling chip that is not present in OPPO disc players. The digital audio architecture of the
752BD upconverts all digital signals to 24/192 before conversion
to analog. Additionally, the Anagram upsampling DSP will upconvert digital outputs to 96 or 192 kHz sample rates if you select
PCM output mode, which you really should be using to allow
access to secondary audio features on Blu-ray Discs. There is no
advantage to sending undecoded codecs (aka bitstream) like
Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA to your surround processor. Doing
so prevents you from being able to access secondary audio from
Blu-ray Discs.
The Azur 752BD is Cambridge’s top-of-the-line Blu-ray Disc
player. If you will not use or benefit from the analog outputs or
high-quality upsampling, there is Cambridge’s lower-cost disc
player (currently the 651BD, but you might expect a 652BD at
some point). The 752BD uses five onboard Wolfson DACs for all
digital to analog conversion. Since each DAC is a stereo chip,
that means there are 10 channels of analog-to-digital conversion
onboard. Eight channels (four DACs) are used for the analog multichannel outputs, and a dedicated left and right output share the
fifth Wolfson DAC. The OPPO BDP-105 uses ESS Sabre DACs
and employs unspecified upsampling. Cambridge chose
Anagram upsampling for the 752BD, presumably because they
felt the end result was better than other options available to them.
Cambridge also includes a choice of three digital filters designed
by Anagram. The digital filter is one of the sources of sonic differences among different digital audio products. These digital filters
have different properties, none of which are perfect, but each
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Widescreen Review • Issue 175 • March 2013
option has pluses and minuses in regards to measured response to
various input stimuli like impulses, simultaneous tones, etc. Since different people react differently to different digital filters, Cambridge
included three choices that can be selected by a direct-access button
on the remote control. Three tiny blue LEDs on the front panel indicate
which filter is in use, but you cannot determine the active filter from
your seat unless you cycle through the three choices to learn which
LED of the three is illuminated. These filters only apply to analog audio
outputs. If you are using digital outputs, digital audio is sent directly
and not filtered until it gets to the surround processor or AVR and then
it will use the filter in the processor or AVR.
If you take a high-level look, the Azur 752BD and OPPO BDP-105
have a similar list of features, though, the Cambridge player lacks the
105’s USB DAC input and the headphone jack. But the OPPO machine
lacks the Anagram upsampling and the three selectable digital filters.
Both machines are designed for analog audio performance beyond
“standard” Blu-ray Disc players. OPPO and Cambridge did their thing
in different ways, and you may have a preference for one machine over
the other.
Some of the key features of the 752BD are: faster disc loading and
faster response to commands from the remote control; 4K upsampling
(not a needed feature yet, but perhaps some day a 4K display will
exist that doesn’t do a very good job of converting HD to UHD); two
HDMI inputs; three USB inputs; digital coax and optical inputs; no
video outputs except HDMI and a diagnostic composite video connection; dual HDMI outputs with Marvell Qdeo processing for HDMI1 only;
universal disc playing capability (HDCD, CD, DVD, DVD-A, SA-CD,
Blu-ray including 3D, Picture CD, and many writable or read-writable
disc types); 2D to 3D conversion (no better or worse than other implementations); can be used as a “preamp” to feed multiple amplifier
channels without an AVR or surround processor; front HDMI input is
MHL compliant; included USB Wi-Fi adapter with USB extension cable
to improve placement options to get best possible performance; network media support; and internet apps for YouTube and Picasa. In
other respects, the 752BD has features similar to other current Blu-ray
Disc players.
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Cambridge Azur752BD Blu-ray Disc Player
For those averse to components with cooling fans, the 752BD is
fanless and quiet in operation other than the slight noise from the discspinning spindle motor. The 752BD’s remote control is slimmer than
most with a gently curved bottom and flat, metal top-plate. The backlight nicely illuminates the text or icon on each button, but you must
manually press the backlight button otherwise the remote stays dark
when you press buttons. The bottom of the remote has a silky rubber
coating that feels great but doesn’t contribute a lot to maintaining a
solid grip on the remote. The centrally located navigation wheel is surrounded with a circle of eight more buttons that would sometimes get
mistaken for the navigation wheel itself. Familiarity with the remote over
time reduced the tendency to press the wrong button, but with so
many other remotes not having additional buttons that close to the navigation wheel, perhaps it would be a better ergo choice to place that
outer circle of buttons a bit farther from the navigation controls. The
752BD’s owner’s manual is excellent, with clear and concise descriptions of functions and options. The machine is well packed and comes
out of the box wrapped in a “Cambridge blue” fabric protective bag.
Video Performance
Blu-ray Disc players have reached a pinnacle of video image quality that is putting most of them more or less on the same plane when it
comes to how they present Blu-ray image quality. For a while, the
PlayStation®3 and OPPO BDP-83 and 83SE had a pretty hard lock on
great looking and accurate images from Blu-ray discs. But from that
period in time (ca. 2009) forward, Blu-ray Disc players, as a group,
have gotten more and more accurate. Of course, this may not hold true
at the low end of the price range for Blu-ray Disc players, but for midrange and high-end Blu-ray Disc players, accuracy seems to have
improved steadily, until we have reached the point we are at today with
most Blu-ray Disc players producing images that are very similar. Back
in the days of analog video, manufacturers could (and would) play with
the outputs to massage the images in whatever ways they thought
would produce more demand for their product. There wasn’t much
focus on accuracy. These days, manufacturers seem to have adopted
the motto “accurate Blu-ray Disc players are the best Blu-ray Disc
players.” The Azur 752BD is another disc player that really gets Blu-ray
image quality right. There’s literally nothing to complain about or pick at
when it comes to the image quality you get from Blu-ray Discs. What is
encoded on the disc is what you see on your display. And that’s exactly as it should be. If we want to mess around with images, there are
plenty of controls elsewhere (including in the 752BD) that allow all
sorts of image accuracy mischief if you are bent on that sort of thing.
Playback of DVDs is one area where performance issues still differentiate indifferent (usually cheaper) Blu-ray Disc players from the better
machines. It is not easy to make compressed-to-death DVD resolution
look fantastic on HD video displays. The 752BD has slightly different
video processing on the two HDMI outputs. HDMI 1 is the primary output. If you set up the machine so that HDMI 1 sends video and HDMI 2
sends audio (or is not used at all), you’ll get the best possible image
quality from DVD, as this configuration option will process DVD images
through the Marvell Qdeo video processor. The 751BD was, I thought,
just a bit shy of the best DVD upconversion available at that time
(2011). It would appear in DVD images as a little extra softness and
graininess compared to the best DVD upconversion. But the 752BD
appears to be tweaked slightly so that it now matches the best DVD
upconversion I’ve seen short of Lumagen’s Radiance video processors, which still have a small edge. What you think of the DVD upconversion quality will have a lot to do with the transfer quality present on
the DVD in question. Some of them are just horrible to look at on HD
displays. For example, the DVD transfer of The Dark Knight is pretty
abysmal. Grainy, noisy, loaded with easily visible compression artifacts
in every frame, horrible looking aliasing on any lines that are anything
less than perfectly vertical or perfectly horizontal, and even moiré
2/4
Outputs - HDMI (2 on back), Composite (AV) (1 for diagnostics),
Stereo RCA analog (1), Eight Multichannel analog RCA (1), Coax
Digital (1), TOSLink optical (1), Ethernet 10/100 (1), Wireless N with
included adapter (1),
Inputs - HDMI (1 front, 1 back), USB (1 front, 2 back), Coax Digital
(1), TOSLink optical (1), Wired IR input (1 back)
Features
Wolfson WM8740 24-bit, 192-kHz DACs, 10 channels for stereo
and multichannel analog
Brushed aluminum face plate
Selectable digital filters
4K video upconversion option
2D to 3D conversion option
Blu-ray 3D support
Faster disc loading and response to remote control commands
than previous generations
Supports media streaming of many file formats including: AVCHD,
MP4, AVI, MKV, WAV, FLAC
Support for network media playback (images, music, video)
MHL compatibility (connect compatible portable devices for media
playback and battery charging via HDMI)
RS-232 control port
BD-Live and BonusVIEW support
IEC AC power cord socket
Fully backlit IR remote control
Direct access Web Apps for: YouTube; Picasa
Latest Marvell Qdeo Kyoto-G2H video processor
Anagram 24/192 upsampling for all 10 analog channels
Specifications
Power Requirements: 100-240 (VAC); 50 or 60 (Hz)
Power Consumption: Standby – 0.5 (watt, economy mode);
operating – 35 (watts)
Frequency response: not specified
Dynamic range: not specified
Signal-to-noise ratio: better than -108 dB (unspecified conditions)
Channel separation: better than -100 dB @ 1000 Hz (unspecified
conditions)
THD+Noise: less than 0.003% @ 1,000 Hz
Designed in: UK
Assembled in: China
Warranty: 3 years
Dimensions (WxDxH) – 16.9 x 12.3 x 3.3 (inch)
Weight – 11.0 lbs
MSRP – $1,299
Manufactured By:
Audio Partnership Plc
Cambridge Audio
Gallery Court
Hankey Place
London SE1 4BB
United Kingdom
Web site: www.cambridgeaudio.com
US Distributor:
Audio Plus Services
156 Lawrence Paquette Ind Drive
Champlain, New York 12919
Phone: 800 663 9352
Web site: www.audioplusservices.com
artifacts at times. It’s pretty shameful that a major studio would release
a movie that looks that bad on DVD. On the other hand, the DVD version of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is among the best transfers
of live action to DVD that I can recall seeing. So if 10 people go out to
have a demo of the 752BD and half use TDK and the other half use
MI:GP, there are going to be very mixed reports about the relative
goodness or badness of the DVD upconversion. Nothing can fix the
problems in TDK, not even Lumagen’s mighty Radiance processors. It
looks terrible all the time. So choose your evaluation movies carefully if
you value DVD upconversion quality. Computer animation on DVD
looks so perfect through almost any disc player that you won’t learn
much from that either. The best choices are transfers that are somewhere in the middle… not too perfect, but not as bad as TDK.
The 752BD sailed through the torture tests on the HQV DVD
Benchmark evaluation disc, matching the performance of the best
WidescreenReview.com • Issue 175 • March 2013
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Cambridge Azur752BD Blu-ray Disc Player
DVD upconversion I’ve seen in any disc player at any price. The
751BD also had Marvell Qdeo video processing, but the implementation in the 752BD seems to be optimized better than the processing
from the 751BD. The difference isn’t large, but it was detectable in middle-of-the-road DVD transfers and on the HQV Benchmark DVD.
HDMI is really the only video output option for the 752BD due to
industry copyright violation concerns. Analog video outputs have been
eliminated except for a hobbled version of composite video that can
be used as a diagnostic option if it isn’t possible to get an image via
the HDMI connection.
Network video and cable/satellite video are the worst-quality video
sources we are likely to view on a home theatre system today, as far as
HD video sources go. Standard Def cable or satellite video is probably
the worst single source, other than really bad low-res online videos.
The 752BD uses the Marvell Qdeo processing for everything, whether
from a disc, network, or as an input connected to one of the HDMI
inputs. That means you can run the output of your cable or satellite box
into the 752BD and that video input will be processed by the Marvell
Qdeo processor and output via the 752BD’s HDMI connection. This, in
effect, turns the 752BD into something of an outboard video processor
for your lower-quality sources. The 752BD is capable of cleaning up
bad video, especially if you use some of the custom settings available
via the 752BD’s setup menu. Those settings won’t be needed for Bluray Disc so you need to be aware of settings you use for lower-quality
sources and remove them for high-quality sources like Blu-ray Disc.
Between the input selection option you have on the 752BD and the
optional variable volume control, you could use the 752BD to directly
drive a multi-channel amplifier without a surround processor. This
option hasn’t been available from previous-generation Blu-ray Disc
players, but the current generation OPPO machines and the 752BD
support this new disc-player-as-control-center capability we haven’t
had in the past.
Network Media Support
The 752BD supports what is becoming standard for Blu-ray Disc
players these days… network support for images, video, and music as
well as direct-connection Internet applications. Some Blu-ray Disc
players may support up to eight or more Internet streaming services for
images, videos, music, and “Internet radio.” The 752BD supports only
YouTube and Picasa as of mid-February 2013. It is apparently possible
to add services via firmware updates, but Cambridge has not indicated whether they will expand offerings in the future or not. Frankly,
media support in Blu-ray Disc players can be superfluous if you have a
TV with Internet app support, so for many owners the short list of
Internet apps is meaningless.
I found the 752BD’s network playback of images, music, and video
was quite functional and useful. Previous generations of disc players
with network functionality tended to be clunky, slow, frustrating, and
prone to crashing while using network functionality. The 752BD very
obviously responds and navigates more quickly and did not crash for
me while I used Internet or network applications. These improvements
make using the network features considerably more pleasurable. As
was my experience with the OPPO disc players, playing music via
USB or Ethernet sounded better than playing a physical CD in the disc
transport. It wasn’t a large difference, but it was more obvious than the
difference in the three digital filters discussed elsewhere.
3D Performance
Not much to report here. If a disc player is an accurate 2D machine,
it will be an accurate 3D machine. The 752BD is just as impressive
when delivering 3D from Blu-ray 3D Discs as it is when delivering 2D.
For the first time, a Cambridge Blu-ray Disc player has the option to
convert 2D movies from discs or from any of the HDMI or USB inputs
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Widescreen Review • Issue 175 • March 2013
to 3D. People seem to think this will be a wonderful thing, but the reality is that it’s really difficult to do worthwhile 3D conversion on the fly.
When a movie studio shoots a feature and converts it to 3D in postproduction, or when a previously released 2D movie is revisited and
converted to 3D, it takes the company (or companies) doing the conversion a long time using powerful computers to render convincing 3D
from the 2D source. Operators also intervene to insure the selected
perspective is appropriate and correct. Clash Of The Titans has
become the poster child for bad 2D-to-3D conversions. People generally have quite a dislike for the 3D appearance of Clash Of The Titans.
But compared to the 2D-to-3D conversion capabilities of various TVs,
projectors, and disc players, Clash Of The Titans is a masterpiece of
3D conversion. The 752BD does have a 2D-to-3D conversion option,
but it’s really nothing but a novelty. I’ve never been entertained for any
length of time with the 2D-to-3D conversion available in video displays
or disc players, and the 752BD is no exception. If your expectations
are low, you won’t be disappointed.
This isn’t a knock on Cambridge or the 752BD. It’s simply a fact of
life. There’s a perceived need to have this feature in late-model video
displays and disc players, but none of them do it well enough to make
it entertaining for more than five minutes every six months. Customers
seem to want it. Marketing departments seem to think it’s necessary to
have. But nobody really benefits from it being there because today’s
ability to synthesize 3D from 2D on the fly in a disc player or video display just isn’t very impressive.
Digital Sound Quality
I tried to find obvious sonic differences between the HDMI and
coax outputs of the 752BD and other disc players, but there just wasn’t
anything identifiable. With AudioControl’s Maestro M3 doing the digital
decoding work, every disc player I had here sounded so similar via
HDMI or coax that there’s really no reason to spend a lot of money on a
Blu-ray Disc player if you’ll only use HDMI and/or coax for sound.
I will say that if you are listening to music, HDMI doesn’t sound as
good as coax or well-decoded analog. This isn’t Cambridge-specific,
this is the same for every manufacturer. Maybe someday that will get
worked out, but for right now, when I want to get the best-sounding
music playback from any disc player, the way to achieve that is to use
a USB or network input. For music playback, I got the best results with
the coax output or with the analog outputs. For movie sound, HDMI
was the equal of any other output option. Use of the multi-channel analog
outputs for movies had no obvious benefits unless the surround processor
lacked HDMI inputs. But, the multi-channel analog outputs were clearly
the best-sounding option for 5.1 DVD-Audio discs or SA-CDs.
Analog Sound Quality
This is one of the primary reasons high-end Blu-ray Disc players
like Cambridges’s Azur 752BD exist. If higher-end players didn’t offer
something above and beyond, what’s the point of stretching the budget from a $200 or $500 disc player to a disc player selling for more
than $1,000? The analog sound from the multi-channel and stereo outputs is identical in every way I could identify. Not surprising, considering the same high-quality stereo DACs are used for both.
The 752BD has the best analog sound quality I’ve heard from a
Blu-ray Disc player so far… there, I said it. The high-end Blu-ray Disc
player getting the most attention these days is OPPO’s recently introduced BDP-105. But the 752BD sounds better. The main difference is
that the BDP-105’s sound is more forward and has less depth. The
BDP-105’s stereo sound appears to emanate from a plane slightly forward of the loudspeakers. The 752BD places the main plane of the
sound just behind the loudspeakers, and there’s a greater sense of
depth going back behind the loudspeakers and more sense of width to
the sides. The other difference I heard was that the 752BD’s sound
3/4
Cambridge Azur752BD Blu-ray Disc Player
puts just a bit more silence between the notes. This is a difficult thing
to describe in words, but it essentially makes each note more distinct
without really sounding particularly different from other high-end disc
players. In other respects, like tonality, detail, richness, bass quality,
midrange clarity and clean, clear, pretty-sounding highs, the two disc
players may not be identical in sound, but they certainly don’t differ
much in quality or character. I used to think this had something to do
with the quietness of the noise floor, but I don’t think that’s right. I think
it probably has more to do with the quality of digital-to-analog decoding than anything else.
Compared to Cambridge’s Azur 751BD from 2011, the 752BD has
a more refined and lightly updated version of the sound from the older
machine. The extra silence between notes applies here also. The
slightly more spacious character of the 752BD is also an advantage
over the 751BD. While the 752BD doesn’t quite match the standalone
Wavelength Proton USB DAC driven by a Mac Mini computer, the
Proton/computer combo, including the high-end USB cable and computer upgrades, sells for about $3,100 if you install the RAM and solid
state hard disk yourself (very tricky to do in a Mac Mini if you’ve never
done it before). If I didn’t already have the computer and USB DAC for
music playback, I would be quite happy to use the 752BD as my
music playback source component.
The 752BD plays most common disc types including DVD-Audio
and SA-CD. These high-res music discs often include 5.1-channel surround sound in addition to a stereo mix. High-res 5.1 performances
sounded fabulous via the multichannel analog outputs, again, the best
5.1 analog music sound I’ve heard so far from a Blu-ray Disc player.
The three different digital filter options that the 752BD offers only
come into play when you are using the stereo or multichannel analog
outputs. I did hear slight differences among the three options. I preferred filter 3, followed closely by number 1. Filter 2 didn’t sound obviously bad, it just didn’t quite have the musical moxy I got from 3 and
1.Your preference may vary. The audible differences between the three
different types of digital filters are very subtle. I’ve heard much larger
differences from modern remasters of albums I’ve previously owned on
CD or even from analog audio cable changes. In fact, if you compare
the 44.1 kHz version of a CD with a true 88.2 kHz or higher-res version
of the same album, that difference will be considerably more obvious
than the difference between the three digital filter options.
Conclusion
Cambridge Audio’s $1,299 Azur 752BD combines speedy disc loading and remote control response with network media capabilities, the
ability to be used as a preamp in a system without a surround processor
or AVR, universal disc compatibility, and the best analog sound quality
I’ve experienced in a Blu-ray Disc player so far. Image quality is equal
to the best Blu-ray Disc players available at any price, and the 752BD’s
images are highly accurate when you avoid using menu settings that
change the data read from movie discs. There are many disc players
that work equally well if you use a single HDMI connection to a surround
sound processor or AVR. But if you need or want high-quality analog
audio from a wide range of digital sources, the Azur 752BD delivers
the best analog sound from a disc player that I’ve heard to date. WSR
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4/4
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